Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writer's Wednesday - The Importance of Diversity

We are super excited to welcome Maisey Yates to the Pink Heart Society, as she talks about interracial relationships and the importance of diversity in category romance...

My husband and I have been married for nine years. As love stories go ours is sweet, but not especially unique or dramatic.

We met at a church camp, but I was far too young for him and he has no memory of me. Then we started working together (yes, he was my boss) from there a friendship developed, and through that friendship came love. Nine years, three kids, and a lot of books later, I still think he’s the best.

Oh yes, and he's black and I'm white.

By and large we don't consider that a part of our narrative. Yes, we sometimes have to confront challenges that other couples don't. We have to make considerations when we think about where we might travel, or where we might move. We had to deal with a family member disapproving of our relationship. But it is not now, nor has it ever been, a large part of our love story.

That was the inspiration for me to write my book The Highest Price To Pay. I could find romances that featured interracial couples, but very few where race wasn't the topic. I never felt like that was reflective of my life. As I've often told people, our marriage is the same as anyone else's. He still has dirty socks, and I still have to wash them. (Although, truth be told, he does more laundry than I will ever do.)

I wanted to read a romance that reflected my experience.

I wrote The Highest Price to Pay and received great support from Harlequin. There were definitely some concerns, and some discussions on how to handle things on the marketing angle. That was both disheartening for me and unsurprising. Of course, we want to sell copies of the book. And unfortunately very often people will opt not to pick up a book because somehow the addition of a person of color, or the representation of an interracial couple puts them off, or makes the story seem "un-relatable."

Ultimately, the book came out in a two in one in the United States and the cover ended up not being an issue, the book sold quite well, and I have not yet received backlash from readers in the states. 

Upon release in the UK, however, I did receive an email from a book club (not a racist book club, they were very quick to clarify) who asked that I no longer write books about ‘these types of people’. I did not reply. I simply forwarded the email to my editor, and then asked on Twitter for people to email my publisher in support of the book. (They did. I was contacted by marketing the next day to ask what had happened because they received so many emails.)

What's the point of the story? There are obstacles to writing diverse characters and romance. It isn't a nonissue yet. You will have to contend with stores being afraid to stock books, out of concern for sales. 

You will probably have to contend with the odd ugly letter, and hideously unaware review that says grossly offensive things about interracial relationships "turning the readers stomach." (This happened to Jules Bennet in a review for her novella in the Animal Attraction anthology. I stumbled onto that review and let me tell youit turned MY stomach.)

But, even since I wrote that first book back in 2011 things have changed. This is where this becomes a difficult post to write, because even as I single out examples of diversity in romance, it's very clear that these are exceptions, and not the rule. It's very clear that diversity in romance, in mainstream publishing, is relatively rare. It reminds me a lot of that Joss Whedon quote. So, why do you write these strong female characters? Because you're still asking me that question

As long as it's necessary to do posts on diversity and romance, it's clear that we haven't quite arrived where we need to. I write diverse characters because it reflects my life. We are an interracial couple, our children are mixed race. That, to me, is normal. That is what my life looks like.

I write diverse characters because I believe everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in a book. I write them because it reflects my life. I believe that we are all people who fall in love, who carry baggage from our pasts, who say wonderful things, and hurtful things. As idealistic as it sounds we are all the same. I will keep writing diverse characters until it's no longer remarkable in any way. Until we dont look at people who come from different backgrounds and think their stories are un-relatable.  

On a positive note we are seeing more and more diversity in category romance. Soliders Rescue Mission by Cindy Dees is a wonderful example of that, and of representation of that on the cover. ( I LOVE this cover.) By and large I feel covers are getting a bit less coy, the content of category romance has often been more diverse than their packaging.

I was extremely pleased with the cover of my book Heir to a Dark Inheritance, which has an Indian heroine. I fell at the cover representation was very well done. Likewise, I have an Arabic heroine in my November presents To Defy A Sheikh, and I was thrilled with the representation of both characters on the cover. 

And Im personally seeing that readers are willing to pick up my books, no matter the ethnic background of the characters. I get far more positive letters than negative. In fact, I havent gotten one since that wonderful tome from the Not Racist Book club.

I hope thats a sign that things are changing, and will continue to change.

In terms of content I'm going to list a few more examples of diversity and category romance from the past couple of years. In the comments, I would invite you to leave any that you know about that I might have missed.

There are lines dedicated to diversity and to focusing on people of color, but there are also writers bringing diversity into other lines, which is the focus of this list. (Also, Im shamelessly includingwell, myself, because I know about my books. So easy.)

Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson
Partner in Crime by Jules Bennett in the Animal Attraction Anthology
Whatthe Greek Wants Most by Maya Blake (not yet released)
An Heir to Bind Them by Dani Collins
The Most Expensive Lie of All by Michelle Conder
Protecting the Desert Heir by Caitlin Crews (not yet released)
Captive But Forbidden by Lynn Raye Harris
The Secret Affair and Bachelor Undone by Brenda Jackson (available for pre-order)
The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin
Going the Distance by Meg Maguire
Monsoon Wedding Fever by Shoma Narayanan
His Wife for One Night by Molly OKeefe
The Man to Be Reckoned With by Tara Pammi (available for pre-order)
Marriage on the Rebound by Michelle Reid (this one might be tricky to find)
His Uptown Girl by Liz Talley
Breaking All Her Rules by Maisey Yates
The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates
Snowed in With Her Boss by Maisey Yates in the Christmas With a Billionaire Anthology
To Defy a Sheikh by Maisey Yates

Maisey's latest story, Snowed in With Her Boss, has an interracial couple and can be found in the Christmas with a Billionaire Anthology:


Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve.  (Bad).  She's at a five-star Aspen resort.  (Good!)

She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend.  (So bad it's good!)  But is she pretending...or practicing with Luc Chevalier? 

To find out more about Maisey, check out her website and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Dutiful Amelia is stranded on Christmas Eve. (Bad.) She's at a five-star Aspen resort. (Good!) She's posing as her handsome boss's girlfriend. (So bad it's good!) But is she pretending…or practicing with Luc Chevalier? - See more at: http://www.maiseyyates.com/books/snowed-boss-christmas-billionaire/#sthash.qU6G4Dk9.dpukd

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post. I worry about diversity issues. I'm not even published and I worry. For a number of reasons. First, I have written a number of romances with indigenous, Asian or whatever characters. I wrote them not because I wanted to write diverse heroes and heroines but because they were the characters that came to me. The colour or ethnicity was incidental and mostly does not impact on the romance. Except maybe my Romeo and Juliet one because the hero was Italian Australian and the heroine Chinese Australian and they had siblings involved in a street racing gang culture that was partly delineated by race. (yeah...I lifted the plot from an old play by some British guy)
    What first started to worry me was when I started looking at publishers and many digital publishers have a separate imprint called "Interracial Romance." This sat very uncomfortably with me because a lot of my stories would probably be slotted in there because one of my protagonists could be considered a POC. Needless to say those publishers are not on my list of potential publishers.
    The second thing that started to worry me is that I'm white. I'm married to a white person. 6 out of 7 of my children are white. The exception is my adopted son who is half Pakistani and half British. I worry that when I write my diverse heroes and heroines, I might be considered patronising or impinging on the prerogatives of other authors who have a stronger life experience of living with diversity. I worry that I don't know the latest terminology. I've been involved in disability for 26 years and the politically correct terminology is changing all the time. In my part of Australia growing up we used words like piccaninny in an affectionate way for all children but I learned the hard way that it is considered derogatory by people in the US. So do I want more diversity? I want a world where nobody thinks about it. Where I don't have to second guess the colour or culture of my heroine or hero.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fiona, I find I'm bothered by the interracial category within publishers as well. On the one hand, I understand it's a marketing decision. It makes them easier to find for those who have a specific interest. On the other hand, it's often listed with fetishes. And my marriage isn't a fetish. Catch 22 in some ways as the books need to reach their audience to sell, and to exist.

      I feel like fear should never be the reason to avoid writing POC. I understand your concerns, and I share them. I feel like I treat every character I write as an individual and with respect. As for the why? Well, no one ever asks me why I decided to make a character white. They assume my characters will be. That speaks volumes, I think, that there are people who think you need A REASON to write POC characters.

      Delete
  2. I'm a POC and my husband is white. We've been married for 22 years with two bi-racial kids.

    I'm from the US and there was a lot of press when the news came out racial minorities make up more than half the demographic under 5 years old. This is huge news because it means the consumer market will change in the next 10-20 years.

    More and more people are bi racial or poc or involved in interracial relationships. Entertainment will have to appeal to those people.

    Romance Novels, Comic Books, Movies, TV, etc will have to adapt to the changing market demands. We're starting to see it already. For example the new Marvel Fantastic Four movie will have a black Johnny Storm but a white Sue Storm. They are siblings. When the news came out some people found it difficult to understand that bi racial siblings can be different colors depending on the roll of the genetic dice.

    More and more people will be growing up in households with different colors and it's only a matter of time before this reflects a critical mass of reality and these will be the people consuming the media. My feelings? They need to see themselves reflected back otherwise they will look elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maya, I completely agree. I can't really add anything to your comment because it's so insightful. Thank you.

      Delete
  3. Adding to your excellent list, Molly O'Keefe also has Never Been Kissed. Sherry Thomas' My Beautiful Enemy, Courtney Milan's Talk Sweetly To Me, Vicki Essex' Back to the Good Fortune Diner, Avery Flynn's Betting the Billionaire, and Robin Covington's Playing the Part for starters.
    And I'm the product of three generations of interracial marriage. (Or unions, rumor has it the great grandmother might have skipped over the legalities.) So yeah, it's normal to me. I confuse people when I want to check multiple boxes on their race forms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Love the additions! Oh the boxes...check them all and make people deal, I say. ;)

      Delete
  4. Great post, Maisey. Molly O'Keefe said something similar about Never Been Kissed--that it wasn't about race. We had a discussion about how race issues are viewed within IR couples. I might not notice a weird look because I don't expect a weird look. I'm not used to being singled out for my skin color. My husband, on the other hand, is attuned to this in a different way.

    I've read my share of IR romance and I can't think of any that make race the center issue. I actually think this is a misconception about IR romance that leads to more readers avoiding them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That could be re the misconception, Jill! I know I read two in a row that were, and I can't for the life of me remember the titles. They aren't recent titles, and it wasn't a recent reading experience. I would completely agree that the perception (one I've definitely had) puts people off reading the books.

      By and large we have an easy time where we live (I feel fortunate). A few times we've had people treat us rudely, or stare. One thing I'm very conscious of is that when we aren't together, I escape that. He never does.

      Though USUALLY when people stare at him it's just because he's cute. ;)

      Delete
    2. Speaking from the consumer side I tend to pause when I see the IR category because rightly or wrongly, I worry about stereotypes. I think it's such an easy trap to fall in to if people don't have experiences with diverse people but with all good intentions want to diversify their stories.

      I confess, I often avoid books with South Asian leads because when I was growing up there were so few of us in the US (I'm 50 years old) and when Indians would show up on TV, movies or books it be either the mystical gurus, or the help or once in awhile a doctor but often treated as "exotic". Of course this was pre current stereotype of the Asian/South Asian tech worker.

      For example, with regards to romance, some of those 60s & 70s M&B books had a vein of colonialism going through them which made me cringe and avoid. I know so much has changed but it's hard to shake off old perceptions.

      I think while there are experiences our diverse cultures and race bring to the table there are also human commonalities which can get lost. It's a fine and difficult line to walk.

      Delete
    3. Another very good point. And I love what you said about human commonalities. Culture informs so much of who we are, but I think at our core, humans want the same things. We want love, we want safety and happiness. This is why race/culture isn't an insurmountable barrier to love, and definitely why it shouldn't be barrier when it comes to entertainment/books/movies.

      Delete
    4. Maisey: I totally agree.

      The cultural differences go beyond color in to where we all grew up. When I was little and we'd visit my grandparents in India my siblings and I were proverbial fish out of water. It wasn't what we understood because it wasn't where we were born & raised.

      This past summer we traveled across the U.K. and Ireland and you'd think sharing a common language would bind us but it doesn't. There are so many cultural differences from the words we use to the foods we eat and so many other things. As my husband liked to kid "separated by a common language"

      Then when color comes in to it, it's just one more superficial thing which separates us and again it's so dependent on where you grow up. if you grow up the minority, be it white, brown, black, etc, you have a different experience. If I was born and raised in India I'd have been the majority and my experiences and outlook would be very different than it is.

      Same goes if my white husband had been raised in a majority non white culture.

      I totally agree none of this is insurmountable because it is based upon artificial constraints. We're all one race with the same hopes and dreams. We want the best for our children, we want the best for our loved ones.

      It doesn't matter if I call a mobile home a mobile home and somebody else calls it a caravan. It doesn't matter if I stand in line while somebody else queues. It shouldn't matter if somebody has more pigment. Hopefully we as a global society are moving in that direction.

      Delete
  5. I enjoyed The Highest Price to Pay and I thought it was great that Mills and Boon weren't, as you say, coy with the cover. I have it in ebook, but I loved seeing the paperback the shelves in the bookshops in its release month.

    When I first started writing for publication I made the conscious decision to include diverse characters, because most of my stories are futuristic, and that's the kind of future I want to see. I remember years ago watching the movie Forbidden Planet when I was a student and thinking "so, just the white people have conquered space then?" It was only a decade between that movie and the start of the far more diverse Star Trek, which I'd grown up watching. So when I started writing I knew it was the Star Trek style future I wanted to emulate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that. And yes! Star Trek was def more reflective of the future.

      Delete
  6. Fabulous post, Maisey and thanks so much for the list of recommendations. I'm a HUGE fan of Jeannie Lin's writing (and yours!) so was glad to see her name up there. I think this is a really important topic, romance books should reflect the society we live in and project positive values like acceptance of all races.

    My sister is in a relationship with a fantastic guy who happens to be Malaysian. Thankfully they've never experienced any criticism from their friends, family and they share their cultures with each other and with the family - which I personally love!

    I hope we see more books with IR couples (especially where their cultural differences are not the source of conflict). Thanks again for this fantastic and important post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First off, glad to hear that re: your sister!

      And I hope that it gets to the point where none of this is even a discussion topic for a blog post. ;)

      Delete
  7. Ditto to Stephanie. I loved your post, finding it interesting and insightful.

    As for books with IR couples, I don't mind. As long as it's a good romance, I'll read it!!!!

    ReplyDelete